The Span Of Empire – Snippet 32
It took a few hours to bring the fleet through the Locus Point jump and out into clear space in the target star system. The fleet wasn’t much larger in terms of combat power than it had been, but Fleet Commander Dannet and Lieutenant General Kralik had agreed that if the fleet was going to go in harm’s way so far from their home stars and without quick access to Ares Base or the other systems of the Jao/human alliance, they’d need to take a lot of supplies with them. Under Caitlin’s oudh Dannet had commandeered every available ship in or near the base system to serve as stores and ammunition ships. Kralik hadn’t emptied the warehouses and storage nexuses of the base to fill those ships, but what he had ordered had put a severe dent in the base’s supplies.
Caitlin was at dinner when the last ship cleared the corona transition. Her com pad beeped at her, and she tapped the accept control with her fork handle while she swallowed a bite. A recent picture of Ed was replaced by Dannet’s face staring out at her.
“Director Kralik,” Dannet began in her usual direct mode.
Caitlin choked down the last of the bite in her mouth. “Yes,” she husked.
“All fleet ships have arrived and are in orbit. Several are in need of minor repairs, but nothing serious was experienced.”
“Good.” Relief flooded through Caitlin.
“I have ordered Bond Ship 15467 to begin laying and activating the framepoint.”
“How long will that take?” Caitlin asked, turning schedules in her mind.
Dannet gave her the typical Jao “as long as it takes” expression through the com pad.
The com pad chimed again, and a message from Lieutenant Vaughan scrolled across the bottom of the screen: “Estimate 36 to 48 hours to deploy, activate and test.”
“Never mind.” Caitlin waved a hand to clear the issue away. “I will call a meeting tomorrow for all senior captains and commanders. Word will go out soon.”
And with that the com pad cleared and returned Ed’s picture to Caitlin’s view.
Tully took a shuttle over to the Lexington to join Caitlin’s meeting.
Wrot fell in beside him as they entered the conference room. “So, how was the jump?”
“Fine,” Tully said blandly, catching a glimpse of Caewithe’s trim figure out of the corner of his eye. She smiled at him for a brief second. He flushed and dropped into his seat.
Wrot took the seat next to him and gave him a direct look.
“No harder than usual,” Tully said. “There were a few tight moments but the Vanta-Captain really knows what he’s doing.”
Wrot’s whiskers moved and his head tilted in one of the Jao postures. Tully guessed at disbelief.
“Okay, we almost got burnt to cinders,” Tully said in a low voice. “Drop it, will you?” His relationship with Caewithe Miller might be in the past, but still, the last thing he wanted to talk about in front of her or Caitlin was how bloody scared he’d been.
Wrot stroked his cheek, and murmured, “We must compare notes.”
“You’ve been on a pathfinder jump?” Tully asked.
Wrot’s form communicated smug even without using Jao body language. Tully could read that rather well.
Caitlin cleared her throat, and Tully faced forward.
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought since our return to Ares Base,” she said. “From what we’ve seen of the Ekhat presence in the Orion Arm of the galaxy, they appear to have started closer to the center and worked their way out. We have no clue as to whether or not they’re in the Sagittarius Arm. Once we arrive there, if we don’t see them, we will head inward from that point. I believe that will increase our chances of finding an extant society.” She glanced around the table.
“Or increase chances of encountering the Ekhat if they are also in the Sagittarius Arm,” Wrot commented.
Caitlin nodded. Tully noted a tightness around her mouth. She wasn’t happy about that possibility. “A risk I believe we must run.”
Tully also noted that she had not called for discussion. She was growing into this leadership stuff, he thought to himself.
Caitlin looked to Fleet Commander Dannet. “I would like to make the next jump as soon as the frame-point is set and functional. Please plan accordingly.”
“We will be ready,” the former Narvo said. “Is there anything else?”
Caitlin stood. “No. Keep me informed of progress.”
Dannet rose to her feet, her large-even-for-a-Jao body dwarfing all but the Lleix. The rest of the council followed. Tully lingered for a moment, hoping for a quick word with Caewithe. But Caitlin swept out the door ahead of everyone and her bodyguard of course had to go with her.
He started to follow after them, only to see Lim step in front of him.
“Colonel Tully,” she began. He nodded in response, and she continued, “We have an agreement that you will teach me to fight. I am ready to begin.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Tully held up his hands. “I agreed to have you taught to fight. But things are a bit up in the air, right now.”
“And in this fleet, when will they not be?” She looked down and folded her robe a little closer to her body.
Tully noted that Lim’s command of English idiom was rather good. But then, he would expect no less from a Lleix.
“Fair point,” Tully acknowledged. “Part of the problem is that the man I want to begin your training is on Ban Chao, not Lexington.”
“That is not a problem,” Lim replied. She looked at him, black eyes focused on his. “Pyr and I were joined by Garhet of Terralore a few days ago after it was decided that we need to have at least one of us with each of the senior Terra taif leaders. Pyr and Garhet will remain on Lexington to observe and interact with Director Kralik and Wrot. I volunteered to move to Ban Chao to observe you and your jinau leaders. If it is acceptable, I can return to the ship with you now.”
“Wait a minute,” Tully said, holding up his hands again.
“You do not want me?”
“No,” Tully said. Lim seemed to stiffen, and he hurried to say, “I don’t mean I don’t want you on the ship. You just caught me off guard is all.” God, now he was getting in trouble with prickly extra-terrestrial women! What next? “Look, if you want to come over to Ban Chao, I’ll approve that. And yeah, it will make it some easier to start your training. But you’re going to be surrounded by Jao and humans, with no other Lleix on the ship. You sure you want to take that on?”
Lim stared at him for a moment, black eyes unblinking, aureole doing a slow rise around her head. “How will that be different from my life before now?”
Tully looked at Lim; saw the set of her shoulders, the full extension of her aureole, and the stillness of her hands. “Right. We leave for Ban Chao in an hour. Can you be ready by then?”
Lim gave him a human nod, turned and exited the conference room. Tully stared after her. “Women,” he muttered. “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, and can’t leave them behind.”
He thumbed the call list on his com pad. A moment later First Sergeant Luff’s face was looking at him out of the surface of the pad. “Colonel? Something I can do for you?”
“Yep,” Tully said. “Top, I need you to notify whoever is in charge of quarters on Ban Chao that we need to find a room for one more. Lim of Terralore elian is going to be joining us.”
“Yep. And Top?”
“Yes, sir . . .”